When students at T.H. Rogers School are dismissed for the day, Thomas Winston’s shift is just getting started.
As a plant operator, Winston works nights, but looks forward to the time when he gets to cross paths with the elementary and middle school students as they make their way home.
Sometimes he simply greets them with a warm hello, other times he likes to give advice and prepare them for the outside world.
“I tell them they need to go to college and get a job,” Winston said through an interpreter. “I like to encourage that.”
Like many students who attend T.H. Rogers, Winston is deaf.
He’s also an alumnus of the school’s Region 4 Regional Day School Program for the Deaf, where everyone has an experience with or an understanding of deafness. He graduated from the program in 1980, then went on to Lamar High School where he lettered in football and track.
“He’s an example of what we would like to see in the future for all of our students,” Principal Tiffany Chenier said. “I think the fact that he returned to where he was educated also speaks volumes of his dedication and commitment to our campus as well.”
Winston’s job is to keep the school tidy, operational, and safe — something he’s done since returning to his alma mater as an employee 19 years ago. He also oversees four custodians who do not sign and mostly speak Spanish, though for Winston that does not seem to be an issue.
“I know a little bit of Spanish so that helps,” the 56-year-old said, adding he can read lips and uses body language to understand the rest.
Though Winston lost his hearing when he was five, that’s never stopped him from using his voice – especially when it comes to inspiring and welcoming others.
As a former vice president of Houston Black Deaf Advocates, Winston worked to promote and protect deaf and hard of hearing cultures and heritages in the city. At Rogers, he is often one of the first to welcome new faces to the school.
“He’s such a great person and so helpful,” said Maria Hernandez, who is the school’s front desk administrative assistant and met Winston on her first day 10 years ago. “All the parents, staff, and students know him.”
As Winston prepares for a well-deserved winter break with his son, daughter, and granddaughter, he wants to remind the deaf community to set their sights high. Good career opportunities do exist, he said.
“It can be a challenge, but there are people out there who can encourage you and support you,” Winston said.